Posts tagged ‘Nazis’

November 10, 2010

“Degenerate art” on display again in Berlin after 69 years

WE TYPICALLY ASSOCIATE BURIED treasure with desert islands and remote monasteries, but sometimes it’s lying right beneath your nose. That’s what Berlin workers discovered earlier this year when they came across a lost trove of so-called degenerate art that had been eliminated from the city’s collections during the Third Reich. “Degenerate art,” of course, was the Nazi term for any kind of modern non-representational or else all-too realistic painting or sculpture that did not fit into the regime’s conception of a heroic Aryan…

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July 30, 2010

Unbelievable: Actor Johannes Heesters still on stage at 106

WHO COULD HAVE BELIEVED it? Tonight, in the world-renowned Berliner Ensemble on the capital’s Schiffbauerdamm, musical star Jopi Heesters will tread the boards once again in a much-anticipated premiere. Heesters, who reached the truly biblical age of 106 last December (I wrote about it here), is by far the world’s oldest performing actor.  

The musical is entitled The Island Comedy, or Lysistrata and NATO. It is a modern and tongue-in-cheek retelling of the ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes. In the new version, the women on a Greek island go on a sex strike against their husbands and lovers until they prevent the Americans from buying land to build a new NATO base. Heesters will play the role of King. The play’s author is the celebrated German dramatist Rolf Hochhuth (79), who is best known…

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June 14, 2010

Of Soccer World Cups and “inner Nuremberg Rallies”

I HAD NEVER HEARD of TV commentator Katrin Müller-Hohenstein before, but I know how her mind works. And doesn’t everyone else in Germany? As I made my way to the office this morning, I tried to think of how to explain why I didn’t bother watching the big Germany vs. Australia soccer game in South Africa yesterday (in the end, nobody did ask). I thought I’d say something like: “You know, I’ve never cared much for the Nuremberg Rallies. This Soccer World Cup, with all the flags on the cars and all the shouting and trumpets and fireworks, sounds too much like Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fußball for my taste.’” Germany won 4-0 by the way, or at last that’s what I heard on the BBC at breakfast.

The similarities are indeed more than obvious, but it doesn’t exactly do your career a lot of good to mention the fact. Ms. Müller-Hohenstein learned this the hard way yesterday when she made the following comment about a spectacular goal shot by German player Miro Klose: “For Miro Klose it’s an inner Nuremberg Rally [Reichsparteitag], honestly, that he shot this goal today.”

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June 11, 2010

Swedish millionaire said to be behind Auschwitz sign theft

THE SIGN OVER THE gateway to Auschwitz concentration camp bearing the infamous slogan “Work sets you free,” which was stolen by three Polish men last December 18, may have been purloined on behalf of a Swedish millionaire. (I already wrote about the Auschwitz theft here and here.) According to today’s edition of the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita, Lars-Göran Wahlström, a familiar figure in the Swedish neo-Nazi movement, had asked his friend Anders Högström to arrange the theft for money. Högström, a former neo-Nazi who until recently had been working to educate young Swedes about the evils of right wing extremism, was later arrested and admitted to having hired the three Poles to do the job. They have since received jail sentences of between one and a half and two and a half years. Högström is still awaiting trial in Poland.

Högström revealed Wahlström’s name…

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April 16, 2010

Happy 90th birthday, Richard von Weizsäcker!

Former German President Richard von Weizsäcker, born on April 15, 1920

“PITY THE LAND THAT needs heroes,” Bertolt Brecht once wrote. But today, on the ninetieth birthday of former West German president Richard von Weizsäcker, I think I’m entitled to say: “Envy the land that produces – and honors – great statesmen.”

Richard von Weizsäcker was born on the run in a side wing of the former Württemberg royal palace in Stuttgart. His mother and his diplomat father had been forced to flee Berlin with the rest of the Reich government just a few weeks earlier in the face of the failed right-wing Kapp Putsch against the struggling Weimar Republic…

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April 9, 2010

Alleged Auschwitz sign thief deported to Poland

TODAY, JUST IN TIME for Holocaust Remembrance Day this weekend, the man suspected of commissioning the theft of the “Arbeit macht frei” sign from the gate of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp last December has been transferred to Polish custody by the Swedish authorities. He faces theft charges in a Cracow courtroom.

At first glance, thirty-four year-old Anders Högström would appear to be an unlikely candidate for such a crime. While he had been an active member of the far-right Swedish Nationalsocialistik front until 1999, Högström soon abandoned Nazism and joined first the left-wing Social Democratic Party and, later, Sweden’s conservative Moderata samlingspartiet. Högström soon joined an anti-Nazi organization called “Exit”…

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April 7, 2010

Poland and Russia mark 70th anniversary of Katyn Massacre

Memorial in Katyn Forest

TODAY, RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER Vladimir Putin and Polish prime minister Donald Tusk are scheduled to take part in a joint ceremony marking the seventieth anniversary of an historical event. This sort of item would normally fall under the news desk, since government leaders are constantly marking historical events of one kind or another. But this ceremony is different, since it is taking place in Katyn Forest near the Russian town of Smolensk, where – among other places – up to 22,000 Polish officers and other members of the Polish elite met a gruesome death at the hands of Josef Stalin’s NKVD secret police.

Pursuant to a secret clause of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and following Germany’s attack on Poland on September 1, 1939, Soviet forces…

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February 19, 2010

Just a dumb blonde? A new look at Eva Braun

SHE IS THE WORLD’S most famous dumb blonde, the ultimate victim of personal stupidity. It was not just her hair color that made her reputation, but also her very name: Braun/Brown is one of the most ordinary in any European language, and reflected the brown of the Nazi Party uniform. And if there is anything everybody can agree on, it is that she got what was coming to her.

That’s the cliché that the “History” Channel and dozens of poorly researched biographies have served up to us for the past sixty-five years. But was there more to Eva Braun? German historian Heike Görtemacher, whose new biography of Hitler’s intellectually challenged mistress hits bookshops this month, certainly thinks so…

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December 28, 2009

Horror film of the decade: “The White Ribbon”

AS EVERY CONNOISSEUR OF horror films knows, the scariest monsters aren’t the ones you see but the ones you don’t. In his latest film, The White Ribbon: A German Children’s Story, winner of this year’s Palme d’Or in Cannes and Germany’s Oscar submission for 2010, director Michael Haneke presents his audience with the creepiest film of the decade without showing a single creepy monster. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that he does indeed show an entire village filled with creepy beings, leaving us to figure out which among them are even more monstrous than the rest.

It is the year 1913 in the fictitious northern German village of Eichwald – an innocuous enough name in itself (“Oakwood”) that nevertheless leaves a creepy taste in the viewer’s mouth due to its associations with Eichmann and Buchenwald. Everything should be just fine here, because these are, after all, Germany’s good old days. The First World War has yet to erupt (it will before the film is over), Wilhelm is still wearing the crown of the German Empire, and the Nazi Party is not even a sparkle in the eye of a young Munich painter called Adolf Hitler. And yet all is not well in this picture book quasi-feudal community. Three men reign supreme: the feckless baron (played by Ulrich Tukur) in his manor house, who owns all the means of production for miles around (assisted by his violent and lecherous administrator, played by Joseph Bierbichler), the tyrannical Lutheran pastor (Burghart Klaussner), and the incestuous and seemingly psychopathic village doctor (Rainer Bock). The regime they maintain is characterized by violence, misogyny, stupidity, systematic hypocrisy, and “God-given” authority. As the narrator (the empathetic village schoolteacher, played by Christian Friedel) says retrospectively at the start of the film, what happens in Eichwald “may cast light on other events in this country.”…

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December 18, 2009

Iconic sign stolen from Auschwitz death camp memorial

THE THIEVES CAME BETWEEN 3:30 and 5:00 this morning. Somehow they cut a gap through the fence and circumvented the guards without being seen or heard. The four meter long sign was impossible to miss – it spelled out the words Arbeit macht frei and could be seen from a considerable distance. Working fast, they unscrewed it from above the gate where it had hung for nearly seventy years, loaded it onto a waiting vehicle and made off with it before anyone knew what had hit them. Now the theft of a sign is always trouble, but it becomes an international incident when the place from which it was stolen is called Oswiecim – better known to the outside world as Auschwitz.

World reaction has been fierce. Poland’s deputy foreign minister Andrzej Kremer spoke of a “shocking act,” since the sign “is the key symbol of this concentration camp.” Israel’s vice prime minister Silvan Schalom spoke of “an appalling deed” that represented a “desecration” of this historic site. Avner Schalev, president of the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, called the theft an attack on memory and “an escalation of those elements that would like to lead us back to darker days.” However, former president Lech Walesa has suggested that the theft is “a criminal act” rather than a political action. But so far, the police have no leads. The Polish state has posted a reward of 5,000 Zloty (1,200 Euros) for information that could lead to the apprehension of the perpetrators.

But why did the Nazis install such a bizarre sign in the first place instead of a more honest statement, such as “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”? In fact, the sign’s striking irony drives home both the horror and the perverted idealism of the Nazis’ reign of terror in Europe from 1933 to 1945…

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